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Poor, Cold Service at Boston Restaurants?

A New England-bred chum, newly relocated to Cambridge from the West Coast, was venting about this to me yesterday. He thinks service at Boston restaurants is horrible compared with experiences in L.A. or even NY. He described it as "haughty." He dines out a LOT for business, so I don't think he's making a rash generalization. He said that, in LA, staff are eager to please and eager to make new business -- whereas in Boston, there's a "take it or leave it" vibe.
I'd be interested in other Hounds' takes -- and, perhaps, a recommendation or two for places that have amazing service, so I can steer him in the right direction!

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  1. I'd have to say your friend is pretty accurate. Service in Boston pales in comparison to other cities across the country. I've pretty much stopped dining in Boston. I can't be bother to spend good money and have to deal with a crappy attitude.

    1. I have always had amazing service at Myers & Chang. I feel like the entire staff loves working there and makes an effort to chat it up a bit when possible.

      1. How can " there's a "take it or leave it" vibe" be anything other than a "rash generalization"?

        Is Boston culture and LA culture very different, yes. Is this reflected in our restaurant culture, absolutely. But to say every restaurant is cold, unfriendly and doesn't want your business is definitely a poor generalization.

        1. I would steer your friend to places like Area Four, Rendezvous and Oleana. Those places, all in Cambridge, have very solid service in my opininon.

          1 Reply
          1. re: mkfisher

            Now that I think more about it, I would say the service is incredibly friendly at most of my usual spots. I'd add West Bridge, Cambridge Brewing, Posto, Catalyst, Toro, Eastern Standard and Gaslight to my original list. Do you stumble across the occassional bad server? Of course! That's not unique to Boston. But on the whole, these places treat us well (and that's why we keep going back).

          2. Where has your chum had poor service? I have had great service pretty much anywhere I have dined in Cambridge and Somerville lately, but admittedly, these have not been business dinners.

            1. Anecdotal evidence is anecdotal.

              I've had good service and bad service in Boston restaurants, but I find it very tough to generalize like that. Even the best places and individual servers have off nights.

              I guess you could get into one of those "Boston vs. Other City X" kind of discussions, but I don't find them very useful. My experience of L.A. fine-dining restaurants hasn't blown me away (the glory there is at the low end). New York is arguably the best restaurant city in America, with some unique advantages in restaurant culture, so nobody compares favorably to it.

              But I'd be interested to know exactly which restaurants disappointed your friend.


              5 Replies
              1. re: MC Slim JB

                Well, on the whole, I agree: Anecdotal evidence *is* anecdotal and ripe for skepticism. But I trust this friend's anecdotes -- and, sadly, it's a criticism that I've heard from others on many occasions. Just emailed my friend to ask where he's dined disappointingly, and he pointed to Foundry on Elm, Saloon, and Puritan & Co. as recent examples. (Did say he enjoyed a lovely meal at La La Rokh.)

                1. re: Swankalicious

                  Note: When I dined at Puritan, I had exceptionally conscientious service.

                  1. re: Swankalicious

                    Me too. I wish the food could have been better and the bill considerably smaller, though!

                  2. re: Swankalicious

                    Hmm - I have loved Puritan since it opened, but we had horrific service recently. We had to leave. To be fair, the GM attempted to try to make it better as we were on our way out the door, but by then, we had decided to cut our losses. Sometimes, it just is not going to work. That said, Puritan remains one of my fav new dining spots, and I just hope this particularly sullen server either improves or finds a new job. I am waiting for a while before going back. Every other experience there with the service has been top notch.

                    1. re: Swankalicious

                      Only a small sample, a handful of visits each, but I've had excellent service at Puritan & Co and Saloon; haven't spent a lot of time at Foundry on Elm.


                  3. After taking a trip to NOLA this past June there is no comparison between the 2 cities. Every restaurant down there had fantastic service. It is definitely coached and management is very involved with overseeing how everything is done. Boston is usually the opposite which is disappointing considering you're spending just as much money or more in some cases.

                    Boston is very hit or miss while some servers can be great and others could care less. It's also based on how you treat the servers.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: AaronInBoston

                      As a former resident of New Orleans, I will agree with the first sentence, but disagree with your reasoning. I would argue that it has little to do with training of staff. in fact, it all comes down to the fact that people are just nicer. It's a fact. My first year down there, I always thought people were screwing with me. I finally came to realize that people are just nice.

                    2. I can't agree with your friend. Then again, "good service" can be completely subjective. One person's inobtrusive server is another's missing server, one diner's fawning is another diner's obnoxious. I've dined in San Francisco and thought to myself "ohmygod I don't care what your name is and how you feel about the weather and how "a-mazing" the pork special is, just bring the damn drinks").

                      I've also been surprised to hear from some people what constitutes "bad service". Things that would barely register with me can really turn some people off.

                      Places I consistently receive terrific service: Bergamot, Rendezvous, Highland Kitchen, Eastern Standard, ICOB....

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: LeoLioness

                        Agree on HK, service is always friendly and top notch there.

                        I've had good and bad service all over the country and world. People in the north east are generally a bit more brusque, and maybe that comes through in servers as well. However I have had plenty of horror shows in NY, LA and other places beyond our provincial little area.

                      2. I've had friendly, lovely service in Boston, as well as NYC, LA, SF, Chicago, etc.

                        I've also had awful, cold, brash service in all of those places.

                        I don't think it's a black-and-white citywide issue. Service varies from place to place.

                        And, for what it's worth, I've had both decent and lousy service at Foundry, but very helpful, knowledgeable, and friendly service at Saloon.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Boston_Otter

                          I agree with your black/white comment.

                          To call service here poor and cold is a huge generalization.

                        2. Might not be a total accident that locals here are sometimes referred to as Massholes?

                          1. My impression is that people who work in restaurants are friendlier in LA and even in NYC than here in Boston.

                            Now, I usual get good service at restaurants. While, some places have a warm and inviting attitude, others, not so much. It's not as if I want to be best friends with anyone but I also want a modicum of warmth.

                            Two places I won't return to because of service: Craigie on Main (aloof, a bit pretentious after the move into the new space) and Rendezvous (just cold and snooty).

                            A friend of mine from work went to Rendezvous recently and had the same take-away as me. Granted, the plural of anecdote isn't data but still...

                            10 Replies
                            1. re: MXG

                              See, and I've never had service at Rendezvous that was anything but friendly and lovely.

                              1. re: LeoLioness

                                Same here. I've never had anything but warm and super friendly service at Rendezvous (and Craigie, though I just find them slow on occasions). But snooty would be the last word that comes to mind from my experiences at Rendezvous.

                                I haven't been to LA that much, but for the few dinners I had, I can't say I had anything that felt that different from good service experiences in Boston, Chicago or NYC.

                              2. re: MXG

                                I'm shocked you felt that way at Rendezvous. Was it at the bar or a table?

                                1. re: mkfisher

                                  Both! We started at the bar and moved to a table (we stayed well under an hour and it wasn't crowded). This was a few years ago so maybe they just had a particularly grumpy group then.

                                  The food was great, though. But really, afterwards we joked that the service was more gracious when it had been a Burger King.

                                2. re: MXG

                                  I'm with you on Rendezvous. I've been there a handful of times and have never had good service. Service was so poor one dinner that my husband and another couple refuse to go back. The poor service was at the bar and table.

                                  ETA: I just looked up when the last time I ate at RV. It was 2006. The couple we dined with at RV, we eat together regularly. RV came up in conversation at the end of 2012 and when I suggested we revisit them. It was a resounding no across the board with me as the lone yes. Here's the report from 2006. I do love that lemon huckleberry dessert and even that wasn't enough to sway these three DCs back to RV.


                                  1. re: beetlebug

                                    Seems that all the negative reports re: service are not recent. Just goes to show you how important this is. Our stomachs suffer indignities more easily than our dignities.

                                  2. re: MXG

                                    I've only been to Craigie once, for the Sunday night chef's whim, and the server was damned charming and easy going. He made a great meal a great experience.

                                    I was uncomfortable with the snootiness in my one visit to TW Food, but it seems it might be a matter of individual servers, no?

                                    1. re: MXG

                                      always angling for auditions out there in l.a. ;)

                                      i have had good and bad service, overly-friendly and shockingly haughty service in any city where i have ever dined, all over the world.

                                      as a restaurant lifer, i find there are 2 types of mindsets for diners: those out to have a nice meal and those determined to not. those with preconceived notions of a bad night usually have one. like the op's friend.

                                      1. re: hotoynoodle

                                        I think it's time to start another thread on bad restaurant patrons...

                                        1. re: StriperGuy

                                          lol, i try to stay out of those. and these kinds of threads too, for the most part, lol.

                                          i generally refrain from posting about places where i am friendly with staff and/or owners, because i KNOW i get preferential treatment. however, i see how staff interacts with other guests (and each other, for that matter) and that factors into my impressions.

                                    2. I've had consistently great service and hospitality at ICOB, Eastern Standard, Tupelo, Green Street, and Matt Murphy's.

                                      There are many places that have good service but have a bad apple from time to time. Some of this is just the turnover of the restaurant business and/or the training/philosophy of a place. Is good service important to them? How do they define good service?

                                      We tend to be enthusiastic, understanding, and pretty undemanding diners. Bring me what I ordered, make sure I've got water and can find you in a reasonable amount of time if I need anything else and you will be tipped well.

                                      What do the places listed above do in addition to this? They are friendly, accommodating, and know how to anticipate. Anticipation is the hallmark of exceptional service.

                                      Things I can't stand in service are upselling, rushing, and not caring. Upselling drives me crazy. I know a lot of this comes down to management but the fact is when people are made to feel comfortable they often tip more, but trying to coerce them into ordering more booze or dessert will almost guarantee a low tip.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Klunco

                                        Things I can't stand in service are upselling


                                        there was a bartender at the waterfront sel de la terre who was so ferocious about upselling i had to stop going in when he was working. it was OBNOXIOUS -- especially when as a guest i am decisive and not high-maintenance. gah. don't know where he works now, thank goodness, lol.

                                      2. we've had all types of service in boston. but that's par for the course. perhaps your friend should try exne, ten tables, west bridge, hungry mother. found those Cambridge spots to be lovely in Cambridge.

                                        1. To me, "haughty" and "take it or leave it" are different beasts. Haughty conjures up the old Polaner All Fruit commercial, where Aunt Muffy faints at the table because someone calls that confiture "jelly". Take it or leave it...well, that can be cool. In other parts of the country I've had servers sharing their personal lives, whispering secrets about the specials, trying to sit next to me or DP in the booth to go over the menu. Too cutesy. But all in all...I've had good and bad everywhere, like most folks have said. Glad he's happy in LA, though!

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: pinehurst

                                            To me "take it or leave it" is what I find at some Chinatown eateries (not all mind you) - it kind of is what it is, and you really go there often for the food, not necessarily ambience and service.

                                            The only place I recall having a "haughty" experience was many years ago dining at Sonsie's, when it was considered the hip place to be. Waitress was definitely giving off the "we're too cool for you" vibe.

                                            1. re: kobuta

                                              Nothing has changed at sonsie. I think most who go there are too intoxicated to care about service or the quality of the food.

                                              1. re: libertywharf

                                                Arugh! the we're too cool for you" vibe has been really getting my goat lately. I live near Davis Sq. where almost everyone has caught the too cool bug.

                                          2. i do not find the service haughty; i think that everyone realilzes that they are working for tips and attitude counts.

                                            I eat in NYC nearly as frequently as I do in Boston - mainly at at a higher end, but do not feel that the service here is haughty.

                                            1. I agree (not for all restaurants of course) but the service I have been getting have become less than professional. I am glad some one else noticed.

                                              I figured it was just me as 1. I have worked as a server or a cook for the past 20 years and come from a family of cooks and servers who take pride in their work. and 2. am pregnant so I can not drink and now have some food restrictions.

                                              I have gone to trina's starlite lounge, in the late afternoon before the nightlife sets in, with two people who are high maintenance with many food restrictions and I was very impressed with the service.

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: l0b0SKI

                                                I agree with some servers getting unprofessional when no alcohol is ordered. It's sort of like, yes no alcohol means a lower check and therefore a lower tip, but doesn't no alcohol plus an eyeroll and ignoring your customers get you a lower tip?

                                                1. re: Klunco

                                                  I know I do not get it.
                                                  I will tip good for good service (even without the booze) and I am always sure to tell them that I appreciate their work.

                                                  That being said once at a job this table were getting so drunk they kept tipping me a little bit after every drink I served.

                                                  At the end of the night the man gave me his last wrinkly dollar and said "Oh dear, Miss I'd love to give you more but I have no idea where my money went?" I said "Sir I know where its at...it's all in my pocket! do you need it back?"
                                                  "Bless you my dear" he laughed "but no you deserve it!"